Follow your own rules

I’m catching up with someone this week or next, who is in need of a bit of guidance around what to eat. Caryn and I consulted earlier last year about her diet as she was embarking on the Dukan Diet. For those of you unfamiliar with this plan, it is a low fat, high protein plan that basically strips weight off people. Make no mistake. It’s a diet in the true sense of the word. After a 5-10 day induction phase of eating JUST low fat protein foods, you then move on to an alternating regime of either protein and vegetables or protein-only days. As much of the protein foods as you can eat. It is designed to strip weight off and fast. Once the desired weight loss is achieved, you are allowed to slowly reintroduce foods previously forbidden, such as a slice of bread or serve of starch a day, a piece of fruit, and this then extends to a couple of ‘treat’ meals per week. So the diet itself transititions to a generally healthy way to eat that could be sustainable. The only caveat is that, one day a week (for the rest of your life) you must have a protein-only day. Sounds pretty easy, right?

Apparently not. Lately a lot of people Caryn knows have lost weight, improved their sport performance, and generally felt a lot better after shifting to a whole foods approach, particuarly a low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diet. This has encouraged Caryn to dabble in the same LCHF diet, however, instead of experiencing the same success with weight loss, Caryn has noticed she’s gained weight and isn’t particularly happy about it. In her blog she admitted that now she wasn’t sure what she should eat, so she was going to take a little bit of the Dukan principles (as they worked so well for her in the past) and combine them with the LCHF approach. This immediately sent alarm bells ringing in my head. In a non-alarmist sort of way.

The potential pitfall of taking ‘a bit of this, a bit of that’ is that the eating ‘unlimited amounts of low fat protein foods’ would look quite a bit different on an LCHF plan – if you are someone who struggles to listen to your own body to determine when you are full and when you are hungry. Any diet that promotes a ‘free-for-all’ approach to any food – even if the plan itself addreses behaviour change – is problematic once you’re no longer following all of the other rules. A generalisation, yes, but often when people start following another diet plan, they don’t read the entire diet book; they go straight to the ‘rules of the diet’, ‘foods allowed’, ‘foods to avoid’, ‘meal plan’ section. Who cares WHY I should follow this plan, just tell me HOW. Even if you tell yourself that you’ll come back to the ‘why’ once you’ve got the ‘how’ figured out, often the book gets shoved into a draw or back on the shelf, and soon forgotten.

Going from a regimented eating plan (such as Dukan) to one where there are no stringent rules (such as a paleo-approach) can be at first daunting for a person wanting to lose weight. There are no point systems to follow, no food groups to track, no calories to count and no restrictions on when to eat. Instead you have to learn to listen to what your own body is telling you with regards to what to eat, how much to eat and when to eat. This is unbelievably hard for anyone who has dieted on and off for the better part of their adult life. It’s a real game-changer. Other times they have permitted themselves to have that control over their eating patterns, it is usually on the back of an unsuccessful weight loss attempt and they have ended up gaining weight. The rules of ‘protein only Thursday’s’ and ‘no carbohydrate after 3pm’ and ‘150 Cal snacks’ suddenly change to ‘listening to your body’, ‘eat until you’re full’ and ‘look at the ingredient list and not the nutritional information panel’. Instead of putting your trust in the rules of the diet – and therefore having something (or someone) to blame if you can’t adhere to it – you have to put the trust in yourself.

Long term weight loss and maintenance really does have to a shift in the way you think, feel, act around food. And that requires time, and effort. While eating a whole food diet really helps nourish you, eliminates cravings, fills you up and leaves you feeling satisfied – years of following rules around diet can make it hard to listen to your own body cues of when you are hungry (physially hungry) versus when you have an appetite (which can be driven by environmental and social cues – ever feel hungry just after breakfast because someone cooks toast?) Some of the strategies that I encourage clients to put into place to start tuning into their internal cues include:

  1. Engage in the act of eating. Some people eat without even realising it – and it’s not until the whole packet of nuts are gone that they realise they’ve consumed the entire bag. People always recommend you to not read/watch TV/surf the net while eating. While that would be ideal, it’s not always possible – so at least try to think about your meal when you’re eating it.
  2. Chew every mouthful and swallow before taking another bite. This will slow down your eating and you will actually taste your food.
  3. Brush your teeth directly after dinner – nothing tastes good after toothpaste (and it’s a win on the dental hygiene front).
  4. Never eat while standing up – it’s too easy to graze in front of the pantry or eat breakfast over the sink and not actually think about what you are eating.
  5. Never eat while preparing food – don’t mindlessly chew on food while you are making a meal – even if it is just carrot sticks. Remember, it’s not the food that is the problem – it can be the habit, so trying to get out of the habit is the first step.
  6. If you find you always eat a snack upon arriving home at the end of the day, even if dinner isn’t too far away, brush your teeth before leaving work.
  7. Don’t eat from the packet or jar – ever.
  8. Put leftovers away before sitting down to dinner (out of sight, out of mind).
  9. Wait 10 minutes and have a glass of water before having seconds if you think you are still hungry after a meal, to give your stomach time to register that you’ve eaten.
  10. If you keep a food diary, then also note down how hungry you are going into the meal, and how full you are once you finish.
  11. Don’t write off the day/week if you overeat. Make the next meal another opportunity to practice any one of the strategies above.

These can help you stop relying on rules and regimes set by external factors and start trusting that you’ll make the right decisions. It does (and will) take time, but you just have to back yourself. Putting in the time now will change the feeling of apprehension around food to one of freedom (at the risk of sounding a bit hippy). And on a completely unrelated topic, my lovely friend Helen made this yummy frittata for her birthday brunch yesterday – which I modified due to time constraints, and have posted as mini-frittatas in the recipe section. Eat them mindfully, and have a happy week!

A mountain of mini-frittatas.

A mountain of mini-frittatas.

4 thoughts on “Follow your own rules

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